Your Purpose In Life

I’ve been thinking more about vocations and calling and such, and it got me thinking about Jesus’ & Mary’s vocations. We only hear about the high points, but if you read between the lines, there were an awful lot of ordinary times in their lives. Mary was a wife, mother, widow. At a young age, she was raising a little boy, cooking, cleaning and being a helpmate to her husband, very ordinary things, done for the love of God, done because she knew that’s what God wanted of her.

Jesus Himself spent most of His life in obscurity. Sure, the shepherds and wise men came to see Him as a baby, and Herod wanted to kill Him, but then He was a refugee in Egypt, and then just another little boy growing up in hicksville (“can anything good come from Nazareth?”). Even when He had grown to adulthood He stayed home, working in the family’s carpenter shop. All through His 20’s, He lived a very ordinary, daily sort of life. It was only the last three years we really hear about, when it was time for Him to start His public ministry, to go off preaching and teaching and healing. But God used those 30 years in which Jesus was a “nobody.” They were part of the purpose of His Incarnation too. We can’t relate to teaching multitudes or healing people, but we can relate to doing a hard day’s work and going to bed tired. I think that’s part of the reason we don’t hear much about “the hidden years.” If we knew the details, only those who lived the same sort of life would identify with it. This way we can all think of Jesus living like we do, understanding our pleasures and troubles, feeling like we aren’t really making a difference in the world.

Looked at with vocations in mind, I think there are depths I haven’t explored in the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry too (see Matthew 3:13 & following and Luke 4 & following). First He was Baptized. He committed Himself publicly to God and received God’s blessing. But then the Holy Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. Wouldn’t you think that once Jesus had publicly committed Himself to God’s service that the Spirit would have led Him to the temple to preach? But instead He’s driven into the wilderness to fast and pray and be tempted. And those temptations take on a new significance when thought of in terms of vocations too. Jesus was tempted to use His powers to turn stones into bread to meet His own needs. We’re tempted to use our skills to provide only for ourselves, to just make money and enjoy it. Then the devil took Jesus to the tiptop of the temple and told Him to throw Himself down–after all, God would make sure He didn’t get hurt. We’re tempted to be presumptuous, since God said He’d take care of us–to not work at all or to just wait for our vocation to fall into our laps without our having taken the time and energy to discern and search for it. Or we might jump into an occupation without bothering to prepare for it, expecting God to make up for what we don’t want to be bothered with (there were probably safer, slower ways of getting down from the top of the temple). Finally, the devil told Jesus He could have all the kingdoms in the world in return for obeying evil. Boy does that one hit home today! If you want to “get ahead” in today’s work world (and sometimes, sadly, even in religious circles), it’s just expected that you’ll step on other people on your way up the ladder, cut a few corners here & there, lie to keep the boss from looking bad–you certainly won’t take God or your conscience seriously! On a more subtle level, there are times when we can see a good outcome, but think that the only way to get there is by doing something sinful. When I took an acting class, I was given a part to play in which I was supposed to use foul language. I wanted a good grade. That’s a good end, and there’s nothing wrong with my wanting it. But in order to get one, I’d have to swear (I refused). There was nothing wrong with Jesus’ wanting to rule the kingdoms of the world, either. In the end, He will rule them. But not by honoring the devil.

Only after wandering and suffering and being tempted in this trackless wilderness was Jesus prepared to actually start His public ministry. That reminds me a lot of the process of vocational discernment!

May we follow Jesus’ example by giving God’s answers to these temptations (it helps if we study the Bible, as Jesus did, so we know what God’s answers are–Jesus responded to each of these temptations by quoting Scripture!).

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